Celebrate Arbor Day

Older man and young girl planting a tree together 

History of Arbor Day

by Harry William Dengler

Julius Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, was born in upstate New York on April 22, 1832. As a young man he made his way westward to Michigan where he received his education. Later, he moved onward to Nebraska and settled on a 160-acre tract of virgin grassland in a bleak, treeless area of the prairies. Here he soon found the climate quite hostile to farming with gusty winds blowing away the black, fertile topsoil in great clouds of dust.

Morton recalled the protection the forests gave to the land in the states where he had lived as a youth and so began the planting of trees and shrubs to prevent the loss of his valuable soil. These early efforts proved so successful that he increased his plantings and urged neighboring farmers to safeguard their own lands with windbreaks and reforestation projects in a similar way. A few heeded his advice but Morton became impatient with the slowness in adoption of these proven conservation measures throughout Nebraska. So, as a reporter for the Nebraska City News, he glorified the virtues of tree planting to his readers. “Our seedling forests,” he wrote, “ will nurse great timbers from which will come sills and joists to build the homes of thousands of new Nebraskans.”

On January 4, 1872, Morton, as a member of the Nebraska Board of Agriculture, appeared before this group to convince them of the wisdom of proclaiming the world’s first Arbor Day. Despite some skepticism and criticism, the Board approved the plan and, in addition, authorized prizes for the most number of trees planted on April 10, 1872. So sparkingly stimulating were Morton’s writings now that on that date over one million trees were planted throughout Nebraska.

Interest remained high and two years later the Governor officially designated the second Wednesday in April as Arbor Day. A year later, in 1875, the date was changed to April 22 in honor of Morton’s birthday. For its early leadership in tree planting, Nebraska became known as “The Tree Planters State.”

Arbor Days in the United States

Every state in the nation observes Arbor Day. The actual date varies and has been designated by each state according to the best time to plant trees. National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April. In Maryland, Arbor Day is the first Wednesday in April. Every day you plant or appreciate a tree is Arbor Day!

What you can do to Observe Arbor Day

Celebrate Trees! - Arbor Day activities

Learn more about the trees and forests of our state

Join a conservation organization:

  • National Arbor Day Foundation – www.arborday.org
  • American Forests – www.americanforests.org
  • Maryland Forests Association – www.mdforests.org